Beautiful Days, Holy Days: Review

Beautiful Days, Holy Days: The Majesty and Profundity of the Jewish Holidays

Avraham Peretz Friedman (Compass Books, 2015), 216 pages

This book comprises an eclectic collection of essays on the festival cycle, citing sources as varied as Aldous Huxley and the Belzer Rebbe.  Written by Rabbi Avraham Peretz Friedman (author of the excellent monograph ‘Marital Intimacy’) in memory of his father and in honour of his mother, ‘Beautiful Days, Holy Days’ covers the Jewish year in an engaging and original way.  Some essays are entirely new to this volume; others like his highly original study of I.L. Peretz’s anti-religious tale ‘The Pious Cat’, have appeared before.  Some, like ‘Why do we eat honey on Rosh Hashanah’, address narrow, ritual issues; others, for example, an intriguing piece on Sukkot, consider major existential themes.  The latter actually provided me with a trigger for my most recent Ne’ilah sermon, at which I addressed the theme of meaninglessness and fundamental values.

Friedman’s style is accessible and interesting, although I found that the essays themselves vary in quality.  Some, like the piece addressing the process of prayer, are insightful and source-rich, but others I found less engaging, focusing on topics to which I struggled to relate.  On reflection, this variation is actually part of the book’s charm.  I expect that the author is trying to reach a wide audience which includes scholars and lay people of a range of persuasions and backgrounds:  those who are looking for intellectual stimulation and those who are seeking inspiration.

‘Beautiful Days, Holy Days’ should find a broad readership and is a welcome addition to the corpus of recent works on the festivals.

Summer Reading 2015

As in previous years, some people have asked me what I've been reading during the summer.  For those interested, a list follows, in no particular order:

Anthony Trollope, The Warden

Aaron Ross, CEOFlow

Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational

Simon Sinek, Start with Why

Anthony Trollope, The Way we Live Now

Otto Kroeger & Janet Thuesen, 16 Ways to Love your Lover

Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day

Jon Katzenbach & Douglas Smith, The Wisdom of Teams

Daniel Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth about what Motivates us

Jonathan Sacks, Not in God's Name

Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing about Hard Things

Marcus Aurelius, The Emperor's Handbook (Meditations)

David Kantor, Reading the Room

Jennifer Michael Hecht, Doubt: A History

Transition and the Beautiful Sound of Children

Sermon Notes 11/07/15 - Pinchas 5775

The three recent parshiot – Chukat, Balak and Pinchas are texts of transition.  Chukat includes a chronological transition, in which the narrative skips from the second year of the Israelites’ desert sojourn to the 40th, in which remainder of the Torah takes place.  Balak is a transition of perception, in which our ancestors emerged from the bubble of the wilderness to experience the hostility of others, presaging much of Jewish history.   And in today’s parashah, Pinchas, the people are prepared for leadership transition – Moshe knows that he will not enter the Land of Israel and hands the reigns to Yehoshua some months before his actual demise.

This has stimulated me to think about recent transitions in our community.  There have been so many changes, not least to the physical infrastructure and the way we deploy the space for davening (more of this in a future sermon and post).  But I’d like to focus on the fantastic growth in the number of young families and small children attending the Shul on Shabbat morning.  In a few years, we’ve changed from a community with just a handful of youngsters to one swamped with babies and children every week.  This is a tremendous blessing, but also a challenge, as it represents a completely new demographic reality for our community.  And it’s one that we  must get absolutely right to ensure that this growth continues and everyone, without exception, feels welcome and loved.  Periods of transition are fragile and must be handled extremely carefully.

Many of the new families enjoy participating in tefillah, but others come along only for the children’s programmes or to hang around with their friends.  I am delighted that we can provide a range of Shabbat morning experiences that attract the widest range of people and this means that there’s lots of unfamiliar noise every week – the beautiful sound of children playing and babies crying.  We’re doing our best to try to ensure that davening and children’s programmes are synchronised and to encourage parents to look out for their children, but it doesn’t always work.

Some of us may be troubled by the new sounds around our building, but I have one clear message – when there’s a baby crying during the sermon, exuberant children whooping outside during the kedushah or the announcements are drowned out by chatter, love it!